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Funny guise: Comedy group finds footing in Waynesville

art frWhat could’ve been a lifelong haunting moment for most turned out to be an epiphany for Josh Merrell.

“I farted in front of my fourth-grade class. The teacher asked who did it and instead of sheepishly hiding at my desk, I raised my hand,” he said. “The room erupted with laughter; I even made a few friends. That’s when I got a taste for comedy, although I took the fart bit out of my routine just recently.”

Molding that childhood incident into a dream he won’t let go of, Merrell and a handful of Haywood County’s funniest have created the Waynesville Comedy Showcase, a rag-tag ensemble who’ll be taking the stage at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 26, at the Water’n Hole on North Main Street. The event is free and open to the public (over the age of 21).

“The comedy scene in Waynesville is almost non-existent. The HART Theatre has for sometime been the only place for comedy in Waynesville, and that’s assuming they aren’t performing a serious drama or musical that particular month,” Merrell said. “That being said, the local crowd seems to respond very well to our comics. I think there is a hunger with the locals for something different as far as seeking entertainment in general.”

With a successful test run last month at the Water’n Hole, the group — which includes a few noted Asheville comics — looks at the upcoming showcase as a more confident performance, one that will hopefully become a monthly thing.

“Our crew is a reasonably sized network of comics mainly built through Asheville, and I think we share the mentality that a room to work is a room to work,” Merrell said. “Although Waynesville may not be an ideal place to put on a comedy show, we’re all surprised at how well the crowd has responded to us. The forward direction for Waynesville comedy is to keep putting these shows together as long as people are interested.”

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Emerging from the same vein of thirst and laughter, Carlos Canales knows that though starting a scene from scratch is hard, it’s that exact effort which separates the boos from the cheers.

“The more important question is how do you keep that scene alive?” he said. “The only way that there’s going to be a comedy scene [in Waynesville] is for the public to come out and support us. Comedy needs an audience. Please keep in mind this is a show and please respect the performers. The greatest fear that most people have is speaking in public, and stand-up comedy is that times 10.”

Hitting the stage and leaving yourself vulnerable to an audience can be a jarring and traumatic experience for a new comic, but Canales said to take the experience in stride, to breathe and clear your head, focusing on the task at hand – to make them laugh.

“Don’t trip or wet yourself, and make sure you grab the microphone with confidence. As for anything else about the actual performance, I couldn’t tell you,” he said. “I don’t remember what went through my head [the first time]. I remember being so nervous my hands were shaking and how my breath was trapped in my chest.”

Now, with numerous live shows under his belt, Canales and his cronies are moving further into their craft, honing their skills and taking note of each audience they may find themselves facing like a firing squad.

“The first thing I notice is the room, how does it feel in here? Then, I focus on my performance, figuring out what will work, how much inflection or body movement should go into it,” he said. “And finally, I throw all of that away and just do the jokes, and see where I go. Sometimes I follow my set list, other times I don’t. I do change up my joke order or certain lines or tags in the material.”

With more seasoned comics (Jayson Webb, Cody Hughes, Tom Scheve) rounding out the up-and-coming Haywood locals (Tyler Green, Vince Prickette, Joey Meeker), Merrell said the group is expanding and always looking for new people to jump onstage or listen in the crowd.

“People can get involved just by showing up. Open mics are for any performer willing to do put themselves out there, and we leave the beginning minutes of the show open to give newcomers that opportunity,” Merrell said. “It’s very challenging to come up with 15 new minutes of material for the same crowd that saw you last month. Either we’ll need a higher number of seasoned comics to rotate into here or we’ll need larger, more diverse numbers in the audience to alternate shows and keep the material fresh, if not for the performers, but for the crowd.”

In a modern world filled with more noise and distraction everyday, stand-up comedy continues to remain a voice of reason, a breath of fresh air when life gets too hectic, when sometimes you feel your mind is empty or running on auto-pilot.

“It’s one of the only places left where honesty and truth shine. There is no more an honest person than a comedian. On the other side of the coin, we are the biggest liars — we really didn’t go cross-country with Bigfoot and Cher,” Canales said. “Onstage you can sometimes manage to get a certain idea or belief across by wrapping it in funny words and taking somebody off guard, or you can talk about farts. Both are important.”

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